02 November 2011

Vernazza: Good News and Bad News

The clean-up effort is progressing at an amazing speed!

The tireless work of the people can be seen with a clean piazza that is now acting as a command center and food service area.

Il Ristorante Gambero Rosso
Many businesses are now accessible, like this one, where my husband worked for years and my father-in-law helped remodel. More good news today was the joyful recovery of a beloved dog, still alive after being trapped for a week. 

The townspeople, the volunteers, the military and emergency workers have all excavated and cleaned into the wee hours of the morning, filling barges to haul away debris.

The massive machinery that has been brought into this tiny village has certainly been impressive.
Each of these huge machines can do the work of a hundred people, moving and clearing debris. And clearing debris helps to find things buried beneath.

Recovering an intact boat can be high point, which helps provide a small slice of normalcy for those whose lives have been devastated.
Seeing the boats lined up by the water again, even if only a few, can warm their hearts and give them encouragement to carry on.

The church, just off the piazza, has been converted into a warehouse for supplies, drinking water and blankets. It also acts as a respite to catch a bit of rest. Its baptistery room has been converted for fist aid and chiropractic treatments for the workers.
Below is one of the structural victims of the storm--look familiar?
We lost the little stone bridge over the grotto. Once the picturesque spot to admire while eating your gelato, or to snap a photo while standing over a hole in the mountain side with a view of the blue see below. Now it's gone.
Notice the large green tank? That was the propane tank at the top of the hill, providing gas for the entire village. It was ripped out by the landslide and taken for a long, destructive ride, traveling over two kilometers and out of that hole to this final resting place. I guess we can blame the tank for taking out the little bridge. 

But there is a bright side...a new addition...

Vernazza will have a new beach! Thanks to that hole with a view to the sea, the landslide has filled in an area that has always wanted to be a beach. If only it had happened under better circumstances. 
The tank taketh...the beach giveth.
But the losses, at this point, still outweigh the gains. There are still three people missing, even with rescue crews searching the sea. In Monterosso, they just had a funeral for the only victim of the flood, a volunteer worker that was trying to help protect the town. For more information, visit LittleParadiso blog.
Reads: Here is the house at via Gavino

Many homes have been lost completely or just rendered uninhabitable. The house above completely collapsed.

But even though buildings can be rebuilt, memories cannot. 

A fellow American living in the area gave the best description of the depth of sentimental value of these homes: 
"I think we Americans, even when we visit Italy repeatedly, or even live here, need constant reminders of the depth of Italian culture when it comes to connecting with people and place. Our culture is so different. We sell our houses, we "hi-ho" our neighbors from our driveways, we make appointments to see each other, and by the end of an hour or so, we want a happy ending.

In little towns like Monterosso al Mare or Vernazza, you see everyone you know every day. Everybody talks to everybody. Almost everybody lives in a house their grandfather or great-grandfather lived in and died in. When I rented my furnished apartment, my landlady pointed to the huge double bed that came with it and said "I was born there!"

When all that washes away, and your neighbors have to pack up go to La Spezia, even though that is just 20 minutes away, something is truly no more." 
Losing or having to evacuate their homes is more painful then we can even understand--and yet they carry on.

The structural stability of many of the buildings is uncertain. The stream that the road was built over has eroded the ground beneath the foundations, and the force of the landslide and the impact of cars and other large debris has added to the problem.

Engineers are inspecting the foundations and have already ordered the evacuation of some buildings for fear of collapse. They are being extra prudent in these early stages, but let's hope that things can be fixed with only minor intervention.

With all the work accomplished, there is still so much more to be done.

The roads are still a disaster zone and as I write this, weather reports are predicting a new wave of violent storms and turbulent seas at the end of the week. All of Vernazza and part of Monterosso will be evacuated as a precautionary measure. There is still a lot of loose dirt and mud at the top of the town, so in the event of another landslide, they want to make sure everyone is safe.

At this point, all we can do is pray that the work that has been done does not get undone and that the rest of the mountain holds its ground. Maybe with enough prayers, wishes and positive thinking, we can manifest clear, dry skies.

I want to give a big round of applause for the tireless work everyone has been doing; locals, volunteers and emergency crews alike.

Organized groups of volunteers have come from other local towns like La Spezia, Levanto and Riomaggiore to join the locals and work knee-deep in cold mud. There is still no gas or running water in town, and yet the people continue on, cold and dirty, but with smiles on their faces.
The above photo is of a volunteer group that joined Vernazza to help clean. A Vernazzan commented on this photo to  thank them for being so great. But then someone from this group responded: “In all modesty, you guys are great. I saw people today that had nothing left, but they still lead the battle and then drank a glass of wine together with us and made us feel like one of them.” If that doesn’t sum up the Italian spirit, I don’t know what does. Siete tutti grandi!
This photo was posted with the note: “This is what we will return to…” 
Vernazza, the Pearl of the Cinque Terre.

For the original story of what happened, see: Disaster Strikes Vernazza
For information on how to donate, see: Donations to Save Vernazza
If you have travel plans to the 5 Terre, see: Notice to 5 Terre Travelers


  1. The Spirit of the Italian people is not only evident in the hard times like now, but Always! That is one of the reasons why I LOVE Italy!
    Also the words from your fellow American are so true, and honest.
    Brilliant Post!

  2. I was in Vernazza in late September, 2011. It was such a beautiful area and I vowed to return soon. Seeing the devastation is heartbreaking. Vernazza is in my heart, thoughts and prayers. Vernazza will return again and once again be the Pearl of the Cinque Terre!

  3. Great pictures! It is great to see people helping out!

  4. Hello!

    How is the situation right now? We are going to Levanto to spend the Christmas Holiday -- is it possible to travel through 5 Terre now!?

  5. It is good people whose helping in works.....

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I really appreciate your comments.

Vernazza Updates:

Vernazza is well on its way to normalcy and while I no longer write updates on their status, you can learn about the devastating floods of 2011 by clicking the label "Vernazza Updates". For the latest information from the organizations in Vernazza and Monterosso, visit SaveVernazza and Rebuild Monterosso.

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